Gamba Osaka vs Urawa Red Diamonds
2022 J1 Season Round 19
Saturday 2 July 2022
Kick Off: 19:00 (JST)
There’s a full slate of J1 games scheduled for this Saturday night in Japan and while this national derby, which pits 12th placed Gamba against Urawa in 10th, might not immediately stand out as pick-of-the-round, there’s plenty of intrigue surrounding it nonetheless. The home side avoided suffering 5 defeats in-a-row for the first time in 24 years with an unexpectedly comfortable 2-0 victory over much-vaunted Sanfrecce Hiroshima in their rescheduled bout on Wednesday. It was the Nerazzurri’s 3rd win on home soil this year and it came courtesy of a golden 4 minute spell in the first-half when Mitsuki Saito’s low shot off Keisuke Osako’s upright was sandwiched by close range efforts from Keisuke Kurokawa and surprise starter Isa Sakamoto (his first ever J1 goal). Urawa should also be in good spirits after having 6 days off to prepare for this clash following their 1-0 victory at Vissel Kobe last Sunday. Substitute David Moberg Karlsson was the hero as his 90th minute free-kick settled the match and made it 3 games unbeaten for the Saitama side. The last home win for either team in this fixture came way back in 2016 which certainly suggests a Reds triumph is the most likely outcome here, but with both Gamba and Urawa in among a train of teams from 9th to 17th covered by just 6 points, every result is vital, so expect plenty of passion, determination and no shortage of quality on the pitch come game night.
Tale of the Tape
If there’s one thing I’ve learned during my appearances on the J-Talk Podcast and J-Talk Extra Time it’s that whenever you see a fixture that looks certain to go one way, think very carefully before proudly declaring that Team A will comfortably see off Team B. Gamba against Sanfrecce on Wednesday night very much had the air of a relatively easy away win pre-match. However, it ended up fitting in well with several other games on the round 15 card that it was originally a part of, such as Kashiwa’s 6-1 thrashing of 10-man Sapporo, the epic 4-4 draw between Kashima and Tosu, and of course 16 goals in 18 games Shonan finding the back of the net 4 times in the space of 11 second-half minutes away to defending champions Kawasaki, but I digress. One swallow doesn’t make a summer as they say, but, there was a lot to like about Gamba’s display on Wednesday. They had their backs against the wall, however, a much changed lineup came out swinging and got their rewards. This was the Nerazzurri’s first xG victory since 8 May when they saw off Vissel Kobe at Panasonic Stadium, it was also only Hiroshima’s 2nd xG loss since kantoku Michael Skibbe entered the country, and after racing into a 2-0 lead after 39 minutes, the remaining 51 minutes of the contest now make up almost 70% of the time Gamba have been ahead by at least 2 goals this season. The Ao to Kuro outran their rather disappointing visitors by 8.7 km and 23 sprints respectively on an extremely hot and sticky evening in Suita, so I guess the worry is, with Saturday’s duel against Urawa being quickly followed by Shonan (away – July 6), Kawasaki (away – July 9), Kashima (Emperor’s Cup away – July 13) and the Osaka Derby at home to Cerezo (July 16), how much will be left in the tanks of some of these players when they get to the end of that gruelling schedule? Restricting Hiroshima to just 12 shots on goal helped with Gamba’s currently dreadful season statistics, but they are still averaging 4 shots fewer per game than their opponents, that needs to change, it’s a wrong that can’t be corrected immediately, but Wednesday was certainly a start. Home ties at Panasonic Stadium have been generating an xG of 2.82 per game so far in 2022, while Urawa away fixtures currently sit at 2.19, maybe Saturday brings with it another opportunity to get the defensive numbers trending in the right direction? Lastly, a couple of comments on players who impressed against Hiroshima. Keisuke Kurokawa marked his return to the side with a goal and a strong first-half display where he dominated Tomoya Fujii, someone I’d picked out as a dangerman in my match preview, he also stated post-match that a leg injury, not a potential move to Celtic, had kept him out of the previous 2 games. Volante Dawhan, who seems to have caught the eye of a number of opposition supporters for his good play, was quietly efficient again, keeping things ticking over and completing 47 of 55 attempted passes, which compares with his more ropey display of 29 out of 35 away to Sapporo last weekend. Finally, and this time I do mean finally, but I need to keep my run of using the phrase ‘guardian deity’ going so let’s mention Masaaki Higashiguchi once more. The veteran had by far and away his quietest game between the sticks since his recent return. He only had to make 1 save and catch 2 crosses throughout the 90 minutes on Wednesday, which is night and day when set against the combined total of 11 saves, 7 of which were from shots taken inside the box, he pulled off against Yokohama F. Marinos and Sapporo.
In my preview for Gamba’s trip to Urawa back in February I stated that I was looking forward to catching up with the Saitama giants’ progress when the teams met again in July. Honestly, what I’m about to describe certainly isn’t quite what I expected to be writing, but it has been a fascinating ride nonetheless. To put it simply it’s been a tale of attack versus defence for Urawa with the backline, shorn of a number of first choice players for large parts, but superbly marshalled by centre-back Alexander Scholz and veteran ‘keeper Shusaku Nishikawa, performing to a high standard while the forwards, equally decimated by injuries, have misfired badly on numerous occasions. Throw in a few red cards, failure to get any breaks from VAR, plus some rank bad luck (see Yuya Fukuda’s deflected winner at Saitama Stadium for evidence) and you get a kind of feel for the year Reds have had to date. Coming into 2022 on the back of a strong finish to the previous campaign much was expected of Ricardo Rodríguez’s squad, however, things started badly with a 1-0 loss at newly-promoted Kyoto and, in truth, didn’t really improve until after the June international break. The men from Saitama currently boast the joint meanest defence in the league along with Fukuoka, giving up just 16 goals in 18 outings, and have a healthy +0.48xG difference in the bag too, but in attack, despite creating decent enough chances, they’ve failed to convert them time and time again. This has been especially prevalent on the road where they’ve netted just 3 goals in 9 games from an xG For total of 12.33 and remarkably they’re still waiting for their first strike from open play outside the confines of Saitama Stadium this year (1 penalty, 1 direct free kick and 1 header from an indirect free-kick). Things have only been a shade better when we look at their campaign as a whole, they’ve won just 4 times in J1 and a sizeable chunk of the reason why is because they’ve failed to kill teams off when presented with the opportunity to do so. Goals have come, but generally they’ve been in bursts, such as against Júbilo (4-1), Marinos (3-3) and Nagoya (3-0). They’ve only found the back of opponents’ nets from open play in 5 of their 18 fixtures so far and that is something that kantoku Ricardo Rodríguez simply must amend if they’re going to improve upon their current ranking of 10th. Things are beginning to tick in the right direction with 7 points garnered from their 3 most recent league games with 3 clean sheets in the bag to boot, and as I’ll discuss in the ‘Urawa Red Diamonds’ section below, it’s likely to be an interesting transfer window for Reds as they seek to spruce themselves up for the J1 run in and beyond.
First Match Recap
Gamba extended their unbeaten run at Saitama Stadium to 6 J1 matches with a 1-0 triumph in round 2 back in February. Substitute Yuya Fukuda’s deflected effort minutes after Urawa’s Ken Iwao had been shown a second yellow was enough to bring the points back to Suita. Reds had dominated possession, territory and the shot count in the opening half-hour, but were later stifled by some tactical alterations from Nerazzurri kantoku Tomohiro Katanosaka and the game developed into something of an arm-wrestle prior to Fukuda’s late clincher (his 2nd strike in 4 years away to Reds).
Irresistible Isa – it defeated ‘Insatiable Isa’ and ‘Isa the Iceman’ for the title of this section, and yes, I could have fitted this into ‘tale of the tape’, but I thought it was more appropriate to give the 18 year-old from Kumamoto a bit more praise for netting his first ever J1 goal. After the lineups were announced on Wednesday there were murmurs among the Gamba support that Sakamoto’s selection was Katanosaka’s way of making sure the front office sign a striker or two in the summer transfer window. However, the youngster more than justified his inclusion, in his 75 minutes on the field he shot twice including his goal and completed 19 of 22 passes, of which 1 was a last pass. His touch and movement are good and I enjoyed his link up play with Yamami, in particular, though naturally as a first year pro out of the youth team, he needs to build up his physique a bit more and also become more ruthless in front of goal, hopefully that’ll come over time. On Wednesday there were 2 or 3 occasions when he had a good chance to shoot, however, he instead opted to try and play in a team-mate. Commendable as that is, he was operating as the sole striker so being more selfish is to be encouraged, but in fairness I am nit-picking a tad, well done Isa and here’s to many more J1 goals.
Transfer Gossip – In terms of summer additions, probably the most realistic names I’ve heard doing the rounds are Oita duo Hokuto Shimoda and Yuto Misao from Katanosaka’s former nest (another Japanese to English translation I enjoy) Oita. Central midfielder Shimoda spent 2018-2020 with Kawasaki, so has a decent pedigree and would also boost the Nerazzurri’s set-piece delivery options a fair bit. Misao, like Shimoda, would be able to fit seamlessly into Katanosaka’s system, though he did reportedly knock back Gamba in the winter, so if this story is true, why the change of heart now? J2 top scorer Koki Ogawa has also been mentioned in the same breath as Gamba recently, but with Belgian cracks St. Truidense now credited with an interest, any sort of deal looks quite a way off. An even more left-field name I saw linked was Tosu’s wing-back / shadow forward Yuto Iwasaki, however, being on loan from Sapporo to Sagan would surely complicate any hypothetical deal too much. Looking into the future, Kwansei Gakuin schemer Ken Masui, a former Nagoya Grampus U-18 player, is tipped to be the latest in a long line of talents to make their way from that particular university to Gamba. If a deal is reached, he wouldn’t be available until after graduation in 2024, so he’s definitely a long-term project.
**Update** – Sponichi Annex reported today (30 June) that Gamba will conclude deals for ex-Japan international forward Musashi Suzuki (28) and former-Gamba Youth prodigy Ryotaro Meshino (24) with the duo being available to play in the Osaka Derby on July 16, if selected. Both should be worthy additions to the squad and relieve some of the heavy burden from Yamami, Patric and co. Look out for official press releases in the coming days.
This section is pleasingly short for once!! However, as I outlined above, Gamba’s schedule over the next 2 weeks is jam-packed and the weather in Japan is currently roasting, so expect plenty of rotation.
The following players are doubts for this fixture and / or have an important status announcement regarding their availability.
GK Jun Ichimori – 2 dislocated fingers in right hand, expected back in August at the earliest
MF Yuya Fukuda – Underwent shoulder surgery in May, expected back in August at the earliest
MF Yuki Yamamoto – Knee cartilage injury, don’t expect him back anytime soon
FW Takashi Usami – Ruptured achilles tendon, likely out for the season
Predicted Lineups and Stats
Urawa Red Diamonds
It’s been quite a whirlwind for kantoku Ricardo Rodríguez since he took over the Reds hot-seat prior to the commencement of the 2021 J1 season and indeed out of Urawa’s current first-team squad of 29 players, only 10 were on the books for the Spaniard’s first game in charge at home to FC Tokyo last February. After proving himself during his maiden campaign in Japan’s top-flight he was able to freshen up the dressing room by moving on veterans such as Yuki Abe, Yosuke Kashiwagi, Tomoya Ugajin and Tomoaki Makino at various points in the past 18 months and in that time he certainly hasn’t been shy about putting his own stamp on proceedings. In came 5 news faces in the summer of 2021 and with them came a strong finish to the league campaign as well as an Emperor’s Cup triumph against Katanosaka’s Oita Trinita. After that I’m not sure whether to give them the benefit of the doubt or to be quite critical over the decision to add 13 new faces over the winter, 2 from Europe, 4 from other J1 clubs, 4 from J2, 2 university rookies and 1 high school graduate, it seemed a little bit like overkill in my book and can probably be added together with the reasons I laid out in ‘tale of the tape’ above to explain their sluggish start to the year. Their main attacking weapon Kasper Junker can’t seem to stay fit, it’s unclear who the first choice front 4 are, and a lot of Reds’ hopes for the remainder of 2022 seem to rest on the shoulders of impressive recent capture from Feyenoord, Bryan Linssen. The transfer window isn’t open yet so he’s ineligible to face Gamba, but after bagging 13 goals and 8 assists in 34 Eredivisie games in 2021/2022, he certainly has the pedigree to put an end to Urawa’s goalscoring issues. Reds have been too easy to stifle by deep lying defences too often this year, ending up going side-to-side with their neat passing culminating in little penetration and this was in evidence during their Emperor’s Cup loss to Gunma last week after which there were protests from Ultras groups. However, David Moberg Karlsson’s late free-kick away to Kobe on Sunday evening helped ease the pressure on Rodríguez just a touch, 3 points again here with Linssen still waiting in the wings will be manna from heaven for the Spaniard.
The following players are doubts for this fixture and / or have an important status announcement regarding their availability.
DF Tomoya Inukai – Picked up a serious knee injury at the beginning of April, expected back in October at the earliest
MF Atsuki Ito – Missed the 1-0 win over Vissel Kobe, no reason given yet
MF Yoshio Koizumi – Last played in the 0-0 draw away to Fukuoka on 28 May
FW Kasper Junker – Limped off early in the win at Kobe, can’t seem to catch a break injury wise, must be considered a huge doubt for this game
FW Alex Schalk – Missed the 1-0 win over Vissel Kobe, no reason given yet
Predicted Lineups and Stats
Thanks for reading and enjoy the game whoever you are supporting.
3 replies on “Gamba Osaka vs Urawa Red Diamonds 2 July Match Preview”
Hey man , a very close and unfortunate match for gamba osaka this matchweek . I realised that Shota Fukuoka has been starting over Gen Shoji for the latest 2 games . What is your view on him? Do you think he is going to get more game time? Or , just as you said , its just part of the rotation due to the packed schedule and the current weather?
Yeah, Gamba played well for the first hour but got tired after that because of the midweek game. Re Fukuoka…actually I’m preparing my preview for Shonan vs Gamba now and it will be released tomorrow and I was talking about Fukuoka taking Shoji’s place and also Shoji’s future at Gamba. I don’t see Fukuoka as a long term starter, he was great vs Hiroshima but he messed around and gave the ball away a couple of times in dangerous areas vs Urawa which was kind of a reminder why he doesn’t usually play. He loves to laugh and joke so he his really popular with his team-mates but his on field play is not great so I think his playing minutes will remain pretty low for the rest of the year.
ahh i see , thank you so much
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